Traditionally the U.S. military has practiced a policy of self-regulation with complaints of assault being handled internally. This way of dealing with allegations allowed high-ranking officials to protect their reputation by keeping their alleged wrongdoing away from public scrutiny, although they were generally off-limits to allegations anyway. This has begun to change after much pressure from Congress and the White House to prevent sexual assault from occurring and to hold offenders accountable for their actions.
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Numbers of reported sexual assaults in the military have risen in the past few years, yet disciplinary action was rarely taken against officers. In 2015, 116 officers were disciplined after having committed some type of sexual assault, which is a huge jump from the 56 officers disciplined in 2012. These recent numbers are proving that these once-untouchable leaders are no longer off-limits.
While several accused officers are now facing charges and being disciplined for their crimes, it still often remains a problem that the military tries to hide the wrongdoing from the public eye, sparing the officers from any possible embarrassment or scrutiny.
Read more on Sexual Harassment: The Anita Hill Case.
In December of 2013, President Obama gave the military a deadline of one year to improve their response and better prevent sexual assault in the military. After the Pentagon estimated that approximately 26,000 military members were victims of sexual assault the previous year, the President gave this deadline which forces the Pentagon to take action or risk losing control of the authority to prosecute offenders in their own courts. The President stated, “So long as our women and men in uniform face the insider threat of sexual assault, we have an urgent obligation to do more to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, as appropriate under the military justice system.”
Since the President presented a deadline to improve the prevention of sexual assault and the response to victims in the military there has been an increase in the number of reported incidents. According to an article on military.com, the sexual assaults reported by military personnel rose by 11% from 2013 to 2014. Despite this high increase of reports, Pentagon officials stated that the overall occurrences of crime have dropped since 2012. They also commented that a large number of reports can be taken as a positive sign that more people are comfortable enough to report a sexual assault.
It should also be noted that according to the Rand survey, which was completed as a part of the Defense Department’s annual Sexual Assault and Response Program Office report, “male victims who experience sexual assault during incidents of hazing or bullying may not consider reporting the experience because of the misperception that the incident is not a sexual assault.”
In February of 2016, the introduction of the Military Sexual Assault Victims Empowerment Act (SAVE) was made by Senator Joni Ernst and several other supporting Senators. The bipartisan Act will provide the victims of military sexual trauma with better control of their health care by allowing them to choose treatment options that align best with their needs. This Act allows survivors to seek prompt care at a non-VA facility of their choice if the Department of Veteran’s Affairs does not meet their needs.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson made an announcement in January of 2016, that in an effort to strengthen the Navy there will be a new set of sexual assault prevention and response initiatives. These five initiatives should help to stop re-victimization, give added support to victims, and lower the hurdles which impede reporting. Richardson said that sexual harassment and assault have no place in the Navy and these initiatives should help to put an end to the destructive behaviors.
While there is still more work to be done to prevent sexual assault in the military and to support the victims, great strides of been made in a short amount of time. Only some of the steps that have been taken are highlighted here, and with the public eye on this controversial issue, it is likely that progress will continue to be made.